I hated school, but I loved playing with Margaret’s hair. It was long and glorious and spilled down in black puddles on my desk. I would sit their twisting Margaret’s hair in my fingers while Mr. Terrell talked to us about gerund phrases and subordinate clauses. Margaret was sweet, but most of the girls were nice to me, I never had a problem getting along with the girls… but I rarely got along with the guys.
Animals can sense weakness in other animals and some of the guys sensed weakness in me. I think part of the weakness came from the fact that I was always at least a year younger than all of my classmates. I started First Grade when I was four. I was big for my size and so people often expected me to be more mature than I actually was. I realize now that it doesn’t matter what stage you are in life, a year of growth really makes a difference. The difference really shows when there is a kid who has been held back a year and so he is actually 2 years older than you. This happened to be the case with the 5th grade bully.
His hair was the color of dried up carrots, his skin had freckles that matched. His face was long and gaunt and and if I had to guess his pedigree I would say that his mom was probably a scarecrow and his dad was the Crypt Keeper. Perhaps God was distracted the day he designed Tony, or maybe my memory is being exceptionally cruel, but that is how I remember him.
He picked on me relentlessly for having a high voice. At every opportunity I was the butt of his jokes. For some reason he was given Margaret’s seat in front of me and I no longer had her glorious hair to distract me from my mundane studies and instead I had Tony, the bully, who smelled like grease and fish sticks. 5th grade was already about as pleasant as hernia exam, but now it was almost unbearable.
My life has always been a ship on a sea of drama. The tension between Tony and I was a storm that was brewing and it’s ferocity was threatening to capsize me, and one day it did. I am not sure how the argument started, but most likely Tony called me a name and I told him to “shut up”. He probably said “make me” and I probably responded with “I don’t make trash, I burn it.” Man I was quick and clever. Then Tony shoved me and I shoved back. I did defend myself, just not very well. Then Tony punched me in the eye. It was shocking, humiliating, and most of all – painful. I remember it happened so fast that I literally didn’t know what hit me. A teacher stopped the fight and so I didn’t have a chance to retaliate, but I don’t think I would have as I was too busy holding my eye and crying.
Male ego is a fragile thing and mine was crushed. I was embarrassed and upset and later I was LIVID when I found out that even after Tony punched me in the eye, Mr. Terrell would not re-assign me or him to a different location. Mr. Terrell said, “That won’t solve any problems.” It was the first time that I remember thinking that Mr. Terrell was crazy and I prayed to God above that if he was in a smiting mood that he would smite Mr. Terrell and help him to see the error of his ways.
You may think I am exaggerating about the prayers, but I’m not. I was taught in Sunday School that God answered prayers no matter how frivilous. I was taught the power of Jesus’ name and I planned to use it as surely as any magician used abracadabra and I expected magical things to happen.
The tension between Tony and I didn’t get better, but it didn’t get worse either. I think that after a while he sort of felt bad for picking on me and for some reason Mr. Terrell did eventually move Tony.
I now comfort myself with the knowledge that the real reason Tony and other people picked on me was because of my intimidating good looks. Even as a child I was almost angelic and that is just too hard for some ugly people to accept. They are ugly and they want to hit something beautiful to make themselves feel better. It may not be the truth, but it helps me to sleep at night- well, that, and memories of Margaret.